Just when we thought Premiere Pro for Mac or Windows was about as packed with features as it could get, Adobe has put even more actually useful niceties into the CS4 version of the venerable editing application. Building on its strengths of smooth interaction with other members of the Adobe club of apps, Premiere Pro included functionality and feature sets that were sorely needed in previous versions. There are also some unexpected surprises within the mix.

Tipping its hat to the tapeless workflow that’s largely taken over video production, Adobe makes it easier than ever to log clips, add production notes and keep track of your projects with its new metalogging feature. In old versions of Premiere you could enter metadata attached to clips, but this enhancement lets you enter info into fields like a spreadsheet, tabbing from one to the next, lickety-split. Making matters even easier, you can now also select a huge group of clips and add an important piece of metadata to them (such as your copyright info), all in one stroke. Nice. It’s simple to use and streamlines a tedious yet crucial task that is so important to today’s digital workflows.

Speak Easy

The most promising new feature in Premiere Pro CS4 is Speech Search. This could be the best enhancement of metadata yet, transcribing words spoken in a video clip into easily searched text files attached to that clip. As soon as you click on a file in the project window and select Transcribe to Text, Adobe Media Encoder opens in the background and goes to work. You can designate multiple files to be transcribed as you continue working. When the transcription’s done, you can see the speech transcript as you play the file and click on a word to begin playing back that section of the video clip. You can even enter in and out points according to the words spoken rather than the video or audio waveform. It’s remarkable.

In theory, the approach is enormously powerful, but so far, in the beta implementation of the routine we tested, it’s still shaky. In a QuickTime file I tested, it took around 1 minute, 54 seconds to transcribe a 30-second studio-recorded audio clip into text with around 75-percent accuracy. However, a 30-second DV video/audio file shot in the field with an untrained speaker took even longer to transcribe on a fast dual quad-core machine, with transcription accuracy that was barely 10 percent. It became apparent that accuracy of these transcriptions depended a lot on how distinctly someone spoke. Speech Search still needs a lot of polishing, but Adobe assures us that the shipping version and its descendents will be more accurate and quicker to render.

Even the way it is now, this powerful routine bodes well for the future. The transcribed speech metadata stays with the file in the video when you distribute it – so if you place it into a Flash video or a Web page, that data is there and searchable, too. And there’s more innovation on the way, with ambitious Adobe telling me it’s working on utility apps using this technology that facilitate subtitles, too. Exciting stuff.

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Format Friendly

That’s some fancy footwork, but the most useful addition to Premiere Pro is its new Adobe Media Encoder, now functioning as a separate application. The most-requested enhancement was the addition of batch rendering, lining up projects, clips and versions to be encoded into whatever format you desire. Best of all, Media Encoder can now access its own separate RAM, so in a 64-bit multi-core system with lots of RAM onboard, it can use up to 4GB of its own RAM – and its own processor core – to encode video while you continue editing, not slowing you down much at all.

Smart Details

Adobe minded the small details, too. Among the several editing enhancements added to Premiere Pro CS4, I especially like the improved audio routing that borrows a bit from the Avid playbook, working like a patch bay to let you decide the track on which your audio and video will reside. I also appreciate the work-saving ability to add the same effect to multiple clips. For instance, this lets you copy a color correction from one clip, select 100 more on the timeline and instantly apply it to them all in an easy one-step routine. Besides those editing enhancements, the extensive format support, including AVCHD and DVCPro HD, will come in handy.

Summing up, I was already a big fan of Premiere Pro before I laid eyes on CS4, but now I’m even more sold on it. It’s not a crucial upgrade for every Premiere user, but if you’re adding a lot of metadata to most of your files, need to search speech, or encode multiple versions of your projects in a batch, upgrading would be worth the price of admission.